Utah School Board Member Censured Over Transgender Comments Is Seeking Reelection

Members of the Utah House of Representatives applaud for the athlete who was the subject of school board member Natalie Cline's comments on social media after passing the House Concurrent Resolution Condemning and Censuring State School Board Member Natalie Cline at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. (Megan Nielsen/The Deseret News via AP)
Members of the Utah House of Representatives applaud for the athlete who was the subject of school board member Natalie Cline's comments on social media after passing the House Concurrent Resolution Condemning and Censuring State School Board Member Natalie Cline at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2024. (Megan Nielsen/The Deseret News via AP)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah State Board of Education member who is facing pressure from top state leaders to resign after lawmakers say she bullied a student on social media has instead announced that she is running for reelection this fall.

Conservative board member Natalie Cline has faced widespread backlash from both Republicans and Democrats after her social media post questioning the gender of a high school basketball player prompted threats against the girl and her family.

Cline, who was censured by the Legislature last week, responded Monday to a demand from board colleagues that she resign by that day with a Facebook post launching her reelection campaign. The board is no longer allowing Cline to attend meetings or place items on the agenda.

Promoting herself as a protector of faith, family and freedom, Cline promised in her campaign announcement to fight against educational systems that “erase children's sexual inhibitions and boundaries and confuse them about biological reality.” She went on to warn voters that their kids need protection from teachers who might exploit or indoctrinate them.

Although Cline's fellow board members have stripped her of nearly all administrative duties, only the Legislature has the power to impeach her, the board said.

Lawmakers have opted instead for a largely symbolic resolution denouncing Cline's actions as a "repugnant attack on a student.” The measure, which carries no real penalty, received almost-unanimous support despite Democrats' criticisms that Republican leaders were not doling out a harsh enough punishment. Republican Gov. Spencer Cox swiftly signed the resolution after it passed both chambers last Thursday.

Cline had previously come under investigation for inflammatory comments about LGBTQ+ students but was allowed to remain in office. The sharp-spoken conservative has since capitalized on the media attention surrounding her latest controversy to build momentum for her reelection campaign and raise her profile within the Republican Party.

After she learned that the girl pictured in her social media post was not actually transgender, Cline apologized for provoking a firestorm of vulgar comments. Even then, she defended her initial suspicions, saying that a national push to normalize transgender identities makes it “normal to pause and wonder if people are what they say they are.”

Cox has said he thinks the education board’s forceful censure will effectively have the same impact as impeachment, and he has urged Utah voters to “hold her equally accountable this fall.” Republican legislative leaders have also defended their decision to censure rather than impeach, saying they did not want to give Cline more attention or expose the girl's family to additional harassment.

But local LGBTQ+ rights advocates have continued to blame Cox and Republican legislators for passing laws they say created an anti-transgender climate that enabled Cline's behavior. The governor has signed bills restricting bathroom access for trans residents and banning trans youth from receiving gender-affirming medical procedures. He maintains that Cline is solely responsible for her actions.

A 2022 state law banning trans girls from playing on girls’ sports teams, which lawmakers enacted over Cox’s opposition, is on hold temporarily while a legal challenge moves through court.